Idea's space

This blog is dedicaded to share ideas about personal and professional development.

Archive for September 2009

Private life and professional life, just a question of balance.

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Carlos Rodriguez, trainer at NexP and trainer of Justine Henin.

Carlos Rodriguez, trainer at NexP and trainer of Justine Henin.

Sometimes ago, I was reading in a magazine a paper about personal development, and more precisely about the balance between professional and private life.

Two of the contributors to this paper, Carlos Rodriguez, trainer of the tennis woman Justine Henin, and Valérie Spaey, partner of NexP*, explain that we have our private and professional life, but we often forget the third one: our personal life. Our personal life is in fact a balance of our private and professional life. In order to find this balance, we need first to know ourselves and to define objectives. By reading this, I was thinking that often, I heard people considering work as a constraint, an obligation, and do not understand people who can work during hours everyday.

In fact there is no unique life style or model. Some of us like to work, do not feel the work as a constraint, but as a rewarding thing, an activity contributing to the personal development. It could be exciting if you choose and have the chance to do the work you like to do. Other people will put priorities in a hobby, a sport, will spend more time with their family, which is a very laudable choice too.

When I started to work as a freelancer, some of my friends told me I will have to work much more, and saw that as a negative point. Personally, I do not see that as a negative point. The choice I did is mine and not the one of somebody else. This choice is the result of a long reflection process. I have to perform a range of activities, training, financial or administrative, but what I can learn from this could be performed in another context, another area. For instance, to maintain such a blog takes time. I consider it as a professional activity as this blog is more or less related to the professional area. But it takes me the opportunity to write, to improve the writing style, to talk in another language than mine, to develop ideas and reflections, to communicate with other people, to get some feedback from them and to move forward the reflection to the subjects I handle.  The point is that I could do this activity in another context. I could start a blog for a non-profit organization, or maybe write a book, a roman. This means that finally, I do not really consider this as a professional activity and as a constraint, because I simply like to do this.

The most important think is to have goals and objectives, and to build your live to reach these goals. This goal can be your work, your family, the sport you like, a travel you want to do, whatever. All what you will do to achieve your goal is an opportunity to learn, to experience, to move things forward. Finally, the fact that it is part of your professional or private life is not important. It is a part of your personal life, which needs to be feed by dreams, by exciting moments. It is also a good way to increase our competences and capabilities, to discover and to develop some talent we were ignoring until now. It is finally to conquer our freedom.

Our personal life is just a matter of balance.


Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

September 28, 2009 at 21:29

The wind of change is always blowing.

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The wind of change is always blowing

The wind of change is always blowing.

Last week, I was in France for business purposes. I had to meet the controller of a subsidiary of the group I am working for, in order to fix some technical reporting problems. This manufactory, producing building material, has to face profitability issues, which means a restructuring process. During a discussion about this restructuring process, the controller said that she found a bit amazing when some bankers are asking plans or forecasts for the five or ten next years. Does it still make cense to have such request in a faster moving environment?

When you have a look to the last five years figures of your business and you compare with the plans you did at that time, sometimes, the two pictures have nothing to do with each other. A lot of financial professional are saying that when the budget of the year is approved by the board of directors, there are already a range of obsolete data. Based on that fact, the question is: Can we still make accurate long terms and accurate plans in a faster moving environment?

I would like to compare this with sailing. I often use this picture as comparison.

A few years ago, I was sailing with some friends. Before each trip, before to head for the open sea, we have a range to tasks to prepare the sailing boat. You process a good maintenance to ensure that everything is running well. You have a look also to the weather forecast in order to know the wind speed and direction, you have a look also to specific maps in order to know the tide times and speeds. All these parameters will determine the way you will follow to reach your destination. When these first preparations are done, you are ready to head for the open sea. As you probably know, you have a range of essential equipments to navigate: a VHF radio, a GPS in order to determine your geographical position, a compass to know the direction you are taking, and maybe also other instruments. In some sailing boats, these instruments are very high-tech, sophisticated.

When all these conditions are met, do you think that everything will happen as expected ? First, despite the fact that you have sophisticated equipment on board, it does not mean that it is not necessary to be able to determine manually your position with a sextant. Equipments breakdowns happen frequently, and in this case, it is useful and essential to have alternative solutions. It is not because you have a text editor with a spelling corrector that you do not have to learn orthography.

Another point is the natural parameters. The different natural parameters regarding weather and tides can change too !  If the wind is stronger, or is changing of direction, you will have to recalculate and determine another way. Specially, if you plan to make a long trip, cross over the Atlantic Ocean or a world tour, it is impossible to forecast a so long travel on an accurate basis.

What I mean by writing this, is that you need to pay attention on an ongoing way. Things will probably not happen as you would expect then. You always need to get alternatives in order to be able to act and not to react ! In business, it is the same. We should always think about alternatives, to think about the issues which could appear, and not to think about then when they are, to have a “plan A” and a “plan B”. This means that we have to be creative, to innovate, to improve the different processes, in order to be ready to face difficult situations.

Does it mean that finally the instruments and tools are useless, in sailing as in business ? Certainly not, but it reminds us that they are only tools helping us to take decisions.

Does it mean also that we should not think on a long term basis as things will not happen as expected ? Certainly not too. We need to fix some long term and global goals. The way to achieve then is done with a range of different steps. Some of these steps will probably be modified according to the circumstances, will need to be reviewed, but these changes could also offer added-value opportunities.

Let us keep in mind that, in business, the wind of change is always blowing. There is no certitude, but to have a goal and the wind of change are two essential components to move things forward and to create new opportunities.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

September 20, 2009 at 14:08

Posted in Business

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Ensure your employability !

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486053407_080886b0caFew months ago, I was hearing a leader from a politician party saying that the companies have to ensure the jobs security. I was a little bit amazing by this comment, and wondering if we were right now in the twenty first century. To ensure job security means that economical crisis should not exist.

This comment aside, is the job security still existing?

In the beginning of the nineties, when I started to work, it was conceivable to make your career in the same company. I remember at that time, I was working for a Japanese computer company. This company created his own subsidiary in Belgium and we were around fifty employees. The ambition of the management was to increase the market shares, and to get three hundred employees in the three years. Two years later, the first gulf war started with negative consequences on the economical sphere, and there was a price war on the laptop market. These two components made that the company suppressed fifty percent of the jobs.

I remember to see many friends of my parents, who lost their job, after a whole career in the same company. These men and women who had all to be happy, were jobless the day after, having thin chances to find another job due to their age. It was clear in my mind that something was happening, that something was changing.

I contacted at that time some temp agencies, and finally had few months later a first temp contract. This new assignment was the opportunity to see something new, to learn, to acquire more experience. By noticing this, I was thinking that maybe job security could be …a danger.

Today, I think we should not talk about the job security which seems a bit utopian view, but we should talk about employability security. The only way to ensure your employability is to gain in competences and experiences on an ongoing way. By gaining competences thru experience and training programs, you maximize your chance to find new opportunities. Each competence you can show is an asset to face new challenges. If on the other way, you are staying at the same job level during many years without acquiring new competences, you could face serious problems to find other opportunities, because companies could find younger people than you to do a job, and for a lower salary. You probably had a job security during few years, but after ?

The companies could find several advantages to develop training program in order to ensure professional development of the employees. By implementing such policies, they could help each employee to gain in productivity, to increase the work quality, but also increase the qualification level of the employee. This last point is clearly a benefit to ensure companies to develop their projects, to develop a sustainable economy. The lack of competences in a country or a location can cause delocalization of economical activities.

As most of you know, to manage is to forecast. The job you are doing today will condition your job of tomorrow. By increasing your capabilities and your competences, you are developing your employability, en ensuring your chance to face new challenges. It is only in these conditions we could still talk about…job security.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

September 12, 2009 at 19:42

Finance and entrepreneurs still partners ?

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Nicolas G. Hayek, founder of Swatch

Nicolas G. Hayek, founder of Swatch

Last week, I was reading in a magazine an interview of Nicolas G.Hayek, founder of the company Swatch, the watches manufacturer. This 81 years old entrepreneur, still active, was expressing on the financial crisis and the economical consequences. In this article, Hayek criticizes the “Wall street mentality”, which destroyed the wealth created by entrepreneurs. He mentions that some years ago, he was contacted by an investment fund, proposing to invest around 300 millions of dollars in his capital, but only on one condition – You have to ensure to double the investment amount in one year. The answer of Hayek was the following: “I can only ensure to you that I will not double the investment in one year. I am not there to ensure the surge in the stock value, but to improve the product and the production tool, to create jobs, to sale the greatest possible amount of watches.”

By reading this, we can remember the question: Is the economy on the service of people or the people on the service of the economy ?

Companies are trying to improve their profitability on an ongoing basis. It is obvious that a company has to be profitable in order to ensure her activities, to pay employees, to develop new products, to ensure customer service. But most of the time, the main goal is to optimize the stock price, to create value for the shareholders. Is it the only criteria to be taken into consideration, and is this criteria sustainable on a long term basis ?

Many companies are cutting jobs to reduce costs, because it is the easiest way to do it, says Hayek. There are circumstances where unfortunately, we have no choice. Nevertheless, is it the good way to ensure a sustainable activity for the company? Should the companies not have first to improve their purchase processes, the customer service quality, the logistic processes?

Henri Ford, another entrepreneur said that each employee of his company should be able to buy a car produced in the factory. This last 30 years, automation replaced people in the factories. The result is that we are able to produce more cars with less people. But if people are losing their jobs, who will buy these cars ? Does it mean we have to refuse automation and modernization ? Certainly not, but we have to keep in mind that the value of a good or a service is function of the buying power of people, in other words the supply and demand law. To be able to give buying power to people, an economy should create jobs. It is not what happens these times, and it is probably here that entrepreneur’s view differs from financials people’s view.

An entrepreneur wants to create, to innovate, has a long term vision, is questioning himself. The money is an instrument to develop his projects, and is more focusing about the realized projects than the return on investment. As example, I would like to mention a comment from Robert Caillau, who was one of the founders of the web. In march 2009, it was the 20th anniversary of the web. In an interview on the Belgian national radio, the speaker mentioned that, despite the fact he was one of the inventors of the web, he never became a rich man. Robert Caillau answered that the hours he spent to develop this technology which is used over the world, are invaluable memories.

Finance today, is focused on short term results. The investors want high returns on short term investments. There are sanctioning companies when the results do not match with the expectation, without thinking about the long term perspective of a business. Some CEO’s of quoted companies are saying that the publicized results on a quarterly basis are not significant of the evolution of their business on a long term basis, and that the reactions of the markets are only speculative.

Few months ago, I was assisting to a conference organized by one of my business partners. One of the lecturers, professor of university, was explaining that if you made a calculation over few years based on the returns expected by speculators, and if you know how to calculate the value of a share, you will notice that such expectations are totally unrealistic and unsustainable. And the fact is that there are analysts who validate such assumptions. Are they really serious? Do they know what they are talking about?

This system totally disconnected from the real economy, and this speculative profit race made that banks created financial instruments based on risky products, which weakened the financial system, and created last year, a lack of financing for industries. It is what mentions Hayek, saying that the finance destroyed the value created by the entrepreneurs.

Does it mean that entrepreneurs don’t trust on the finance ? We can understand such mistrust, but the consequences should be that some projects will never happen because they can not find financing available, what make a negative impact on the economy and what will be harmful on a long term basis for the banks too.

Is partnership finally not the best solution to develop projects and to develop a sustainable economy ?

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

September 4, 2009 at 00:00

Posted in Business

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